Tyrone Washington

Roots (Perception) 1973

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T10001891An air of mystery shrouds Perception Records like morning mist on the Hudson River. Jimmy Curtiss’s New York–based venture existed for five short years and left behind little of the detritus often associated with defunct record labels.

“There’s no tapes, no multi-tracks or masters,” stated DJ Spinna in 2012 after compiling a retrospective of the label. “Everything on the compilation for the most part came off of records, so something happened somewhere.”

Perhaps equally enigmatic is the story of saxophonist and Perception recording artist Tyrone Washington, whose 1973 LP Roots was one of the last to appear on the label.

Backed by bassist Stafford James, drummer Clifford Barconadhii, and pianist Hubert Eaves, Roots is Washington’s critique of the human condition; an all-points bulletin that humanity, if it doesn’t wake up, is heading into the abyss.

It was an austere theme that resonated throughout his work.

On 1969’s Natural Essence, the first record he cut as leader, he cast a critical eye over the state of humanity. “Man has lost himself in technological and materialistic creation,” he lamented in the liner notes. “We can offer music as a new currency in a sense, and if man can dig that, then he might be able to save himself from suicidal mass destruction.” Over forty years later, one can only assume that Washington sees the Facebook generation edging ever closer to the precipice.

Roots opens with a cover of Stevie Wonder’s “You Are the Sunshine of My Life,” but it soon steers into more abstruse waters. Washington-penned numbers, “Spiritual Light of the Universe,” “Roots,” and “War Is Not for Man,” are both transcendent and unnerving in equal measures.

Madlib jacked the LP’s most well-known number, “Submission,” in 2000 for “Return of the Loop Digga,” but even thoughts of the comic escapades of Lord Quas can’t detract from the original’s ominous undertones.

Perhaps most unsettling is the LP’s final cut, “1980,” a portentous free-jazz prophecy of a decade that would come to typify the materialistic lifestyle Washington warned us about on Natural Essence.

After one more LP, 1974’s Do Right, Washington would abandon music and focus on religion.

Cold facts about the man are still hard to come by, and the back cover of Roots only adds to his mysterious aura. “Liner notes on this album are totally unnecessary,” it simply states. “Tyrone Washington is incredible.”

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